Link Between Religiosity, Good Health Debunked

Jul 29, 2015

by Tom Jacobs

Religious devotion, as news reports constantly remind us, can inspire everything from empathy for the poor to horrific violence. But whatever its impact on society, divine belief has widely been seen as beneficial to individuals, as it has also consistently been linked with better-than-average mental and physical health.

Newly published research from Germany strongly challenges that latter contention. After examining data from 59 countries, University of Cologne psychologist Olga Stavrova concludes that “the health and longevity benefits of religiosity are restricted to highly religious regions.”

In the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, she adds this is also true within the United States, with previously reported links between health, faith, and churchgoing confined to areas where religious belief and attendance are the norm.

The results suggest any protective effect of religion is the result of fitting in comfortably with one’s surroundings—not the religious preference of those surroundings per se—and the reduced stress levels this alignment produces. For those who live in more secular societies, the impact of religion on health appears to be small to none.


Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.

15 comments on “Link Between Religiosity, Good Health Debunked

  • The results suggest any protective effect of religion is the result of fitting in comfortably with one’s surroundings—not the religious preference of those surroundings per se—and the reduced stress levels this alignment produces. For those who live in more secular societies, the impact of religion on health appears to be small to none.

    Ah! – but these are scientific studies – not beliefs acquired from preachers on faith – or from faith-healers on even more delusional faith!



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  • A century ago, the main reason to avoid liquor and tobacco was religious. To day the reason is health.
    So this would iron out the advantage of Christians.

    Many Christians hate nature. That aversion is going to hurt their health.



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  • 3
    Miserablegit says:

    Who would have thunk it a link between religion and health debunked, time for the woo merchants to come up with a new reason to believe in their invisible friends.



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  • “Religious individuals were less likely to die throughout the observation period (until 2008) than their less-religious counterparts were, regardless of how old they were at the time of data collection,”

    I’d prefer to live a shorter life as a man than a longer life as a sheep.



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  • Roedy
    Jul 29, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    A century ago, the main reason to avoid liquor and tobacco was religious. To day the reason is health.
    So this would iron out the advantage of Christians.

    That would depend on which Xtian sect or which religion is being discussed. When it comes to alcohol, Catholics are not Methodists!

    Ampleforth Abbey: How monks mix God, booze and business – http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/18786736
    The Yorkshire-based monks see their current endeavours as a restoration of that historic practice. They are currently the only British monks brewing it, but there has been a global trend of Benedictine orders commercially making and selling beers.

    That movement is best encapsulated by the Trappist tradition. Founded in 1664 in France, this is based on a strict interpretation of the principles of the Cistercian order of monks – a strict off-shoot of the Benedictine movement.

    Trappist beers are brewed in monasteries, by monks.



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  • 6
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    That would depend on which Xtian sect or which religion is being discussed. When it comes to alcohol, Catholics are not Methodists!

    Indeed. Catholic priests perform the Eucharistic transsubstanciation with wine and crackers on every Sunday. The wine is suppose to turn into the blood of Christ but I heard it on good authority that some alcohol remains in that “blood”. Not sure if the crackers aquire any protein in the process though….



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  • 7
    abusedbypenguins says:

    Depends on what is in the Dippin’ Sauce that you bring. Cat-lics are so low-rent; a sip of grape juice and a lousy , tiny cracker.



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  • 8
    old-toy-boy says:

    And yet, the least religious countries have the best health care, and the most religious have the worst. Something that is very easy to measure. Any possible religion based health advantages are trivial in comparison.

    P.S. Neat picture. I’ll give them that.



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  • abusedbypenguins
    Jul 30, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Depends on what is in the Dippin’ Sauce that you bring. Cat-lics are so low-rent; a sip of grape juice and a lousy , tiny cracker.

    Yes, but that is for the impoverished sheeples putting their tithes in the collection.

    Historically, there have not only been thrones for bishops and in the Vatican, but the monks also lived off the wine, mead, and fat of the land!

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/jul/15/highereducation.artsandhumanities

    Bones reveal chubby monks aplenty

    The skeletal data, from 300 sets of bones found at Tower Hill, Bermondsey, and Merton abbeys, includes information on a medical condition known now as Dish (diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis) triggered by overeating and a rich diet. “The marks of Dish keep appearing on their skeletons.

    The new evidence backs records from Westminster Abbey, showing that six eggs a day was normal for monks. In the middle ages, monkish obesity was Europe-wide. The Portuguese Cistercians had a test: monks unable to squeeze through a certain doorway at Alcobaca monastery’s dining room had to fast while slimmer colleagues tucked into “pastry in vast abundance”.

    A 13th century Cluniac friar’s possible daily intake based on Ms Patrick’s studies:

    11am-1pm Three eggs, boiled or fried in lard. Vegetable porridge with beans, leeks, carrots and other produce of monastery garden. Pork chops, bacon, and mutton. Capon, duck and goose with oranges. Half pound of bread, to use as sop. Peaches, strawberries and bilberries with egg flan. Four pints of small (watery) beer.

    4-6pm Mutton gruel with garlic and onions. Posset of egg, milk and figs. Venison with rowanberries, figs, sloes, hazelnuts and apple. Stewed eels, herring, pike, dolphin, lamphreys, salmon, cod and trout. Half pound of bread as sop, sometimes soaked in dripping or lard. Syllabubs of fruit. Four pints of ale. Flagon of sack or other French, Spanish or Portuguese wine.



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  • To play the Devil’s Advocate, so to speak, wouldn’t this article in fact imply that secularism is bad for one’s health, since the correlation between religiosity and health weakens the more secular the society is?



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  • It only shows reduced health benefits for individuals being religious in secular societies. It does not examine or comment on the health of the non-religious in secular societies, which should be better if the report’s thesis that societal acceptance and support improve health is true.

    Studies that address the state of health of the non-religious in both secular and religious societies would answer that question. Unfortunately; ample evidence of mob violence, blasphemy punishment, and other mental and physical persecutions historical and current; makes it painfully clear that being secular in heavily religious cultures, whether harmful to long term health, can present immediate, catastrophic health threats.



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  • I imagine there’s a lot of stress, living as an atheist in the bible belt of the USA or Franco’s Spain. It wouldn’t surprise me if the religious were healthier as a result. (Though if atheists have to live undercover, it’s moot as to how you would gather the figures to reach any kind of scientific conclusion.)

    Conversely, in some countries it’s normal to be an atheist and you’re regarded as odd if you’re overtly religious. The health benefits would presumably swing the other way (though being regarded as oddly religious in Norway doesn’t create quite the same level of stress as being regarded as an atheist in Bangladesh).



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  • The “stress” for nonbelievers (and wrong believers) in religious societies is so well documented that it’s a global human rights issue. This is one kind of evidence pertaining their physical well being:

    Human Rights for Atheists, Agnostics and Secularists

    Worldwide punishment for nonbelief, blasphemy and apostasy

    End Blasphemy Laws

    Conversely, in some countries it’s normal to be an atheist and you’re regarded as odd if you’re overtly religious.

    Odd, but still free to be so, no whipping, hacking, chopping, stoning, lynching, throwing off the roof or jailing involved.



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  • Dr Allen Sherman of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences said: “When we took a closer look, we found that patients with stronger spiritual well-being, more benign images of God – such as perceptions of a benevolent rather than an angry or distant God – or stronger beliefs – such as convictions that a personal God can be called upon for assistance – reported better social health. In contrast, those who struggled with their faith fared more poorly.”

    Some questions – if a person of faith is seriously ill or dying how likely are they to be afraid to say if their faith is not really helping them? Don’t underestimate what people who fear meeting God after death are capable of saying.

    How many will say faith in God makes them feel worse?

    And if your faith helps you, you may never know if another kind of faith could have helped you better.

    Believing that your suffering is somehow indispensable for the greater good though there is no way of showing how or even if it is the case might comfort some. But it contradicts the notion of an all-powerful God. If God is that powerless over evil despite being almighty then there is no way to be sure that any human being will fare okay after death. Believers who feel comforted by faith are confusing faith in the greater purpose with faith in God.

    Faith in a Christian God is a fragile crutch because what happens when one finds out that this God told his son to get murdered and commanded murders in the Old Testament. Gay people and adulterers were stoned to death. Jesus knew this and did not repudiate those murders. He went as far as to say that people who do little harm will end up in Hell forever unless they repent.

    People in terrible trouble hope that something magical will happen to rescue them from it. The comfort they get is not worth the disappointment that is risked and that will come. And what if this false hope makes them lazy? If it does not then that is down to luck not design.

    The research that faith in a nice personal God helps vulnerable people is a disgrace for it is too anecdotal and does not take account of how complex each person’s psychology is. It does not regard the fact that the sick person will doubt God one day and hate God the next and love him the day after as worthy of thinking about. If there is any value in the research, it is that the placebo helps some people. If God is a placebo then it is not really God that helps but the placebo. The research is basically exploiting people’s pain to promote religious faith.

    It is irresponsible to encourage faith in God for even if it helps some it is going to make others fear God or feel punished by him. It could make things worse in the bigger picture. And what about the doubters? Are they suffering for they have tried God and it didn’t work and now they are made to feel bad about it?



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  • Patrick
    Aug 20, 2015 at 8:25 am

    “When we took a closer look, we found that patients with stronger spiritual well-being, more benign images of God – such as perceptions of a benevolent rather than an angry or distant God – or stronger beliefs – such as convictions that a personal God can be called upon for assistance – reported better social health. In contrast, those who struggled with their faith fared more poorly.”

    I think it is likely for those with a blind faith in a benevolent god to feel less stressed (right up to the point where death or disaster strikes), than those struggling with the confused situation of a doubted faith position.

    This does not address the issue of atheists who are relaxed in the strong probability that gods do not exist, have no expectations of supernatural interventions, no beliefs in fatalism, and are not filled with confused doubts.

    reported better social health.

    “Social health”, would of course be to some degree dependent on the social circle of the individual!

    And what about the doubters? Are they suffering for they have tried God and it didn’t work and now they are made to feel bad about it?

    Clearly, those surrounded by people determined to make them feel bad about it, could do better without this, if they are in stressful situations.

    Those among sympathetic atheists would have no such problem.



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